Monday, April 30, 2012

The mystique of Vermeer

This famous painting is part of a new exhibition called “Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis,” which features 35 important works by Dutch Golden Age masters—including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Fans Hals, and Jan Steen. It will be traveling from the Hague to the U.S. next year (it goes to the de Young Museum of San Francisco January 26–June 2, 2013; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, June 22–September 29; and th  Frick Collection in New York from October 22, 2013January 12, 2014).
There are only 34 extant paintings that modern scholars overwhelmingly agree should be attributed to Johannes Vermeer of Delft. One very clever individual at one time had a great success bamboozling the art world into believing there were more. His fascinating story is told in The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren. Of those 34 authenticated works, one has gone missing since it was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardiner museum in 1990: The Concert.
Another painting is rarely seen because it belongs to Queen Elizabeth. That's The Music Lesson, which hangs in The Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace (it was acquired by King George III).
Another famous Vermeer has recently undergone a major restoration, and the results are wondrous, especially the blues. That's Woman in Blue Reading a Letter from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, seen below in before and after photos.
If you'd like to delve into the art and world of Vermeer in depth, I recommend bookmarking this interactive online catalog. For viewing in person, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick, and the National Gallery of Art all have multiple Vermeers on permanent exhibition. Below: Mistress and Maid, from the Frick Collection in New York City.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Evolution of a movie poster

Newcomer William Holden was fortunate enough to team with established star Barbara Stanwyck in 1939's Golden Boy. Stanwyck is one of the greats who never won an Oscar but absolutely should have. Most of the posters are fairly artsy, with design riffs on a still from the film (including the soft-focus foreign one). The cover for the DVD version, in contrast, makes the two stars look "modern" and airbrushed.
Stanwyck could be tremendously sympathetic or deliciously bad, and she was definitely the latter in 1944's Double Indemnity, from the book by yesterday's subject, Raymond Chandler. Here's the trailer, which also shows Fred MacMurray shedding his nice guy persona:
Fast forward through the decades to Titanic, which seems to be derided and loved in equal measure. I thought you'd get a kick out of these "peeps" recreations sent into the Washington Post, especially the 3-D one!
 And how about these:
The yellow brick road is paved with peeps ... who knew?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Don't mess with Raymond Chandler's verbiage!

By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have. I think your proofreader is kindly attempting to steady me on my feet, but much as I appreciate the solicitude, I am really able to steer a fairly clear course.
Crime novel great Raymond Chandler expressed these sentiments in the course of a letter to Edward Weeks, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, in 1947. Thanks to the website Letters of Note, we also are privy to a poem he wrote said copyeditor in response to a follow-up note from her. This is obviously a person who goes all out to make his point!
Lines to a Lady With an Unsplit Infinitive
Miss Margaret Mutch she raised her crutch
With a wild Bostonian cry.
"Though you went to Yale, your grammar is frail,"
She snarled as she jabbed his eye.
"Though you went to Princeton I never winced on
Such a horrible relative clause!
Though you went to Harvard no decent larva'd
Accept your syntactical flaws.
Taught not to drool at a Public School
(With a capital P and S)
You are drooling still with your shall and will
You're a very disgusting mess!"
She jabbed his eye with a savage cry.
She laughed at his anguished shrieks.
O'er the Common he fled with a hole in his head.
To heal it took Weeks and Weeks.
"O dear Miss Mutch, don't raise your crutch
To splinter my new glass eye!
There ain't no school that can teach a fool
The whom of the me and the I.
There ain't no grammar that equals a hammer
To nail down a cut-rate wit.
And the verb 'to be' as employed by me
Is often and lightly split.
A lot of my style (so-called) is vile
For I learned to write in a bar.
The marriage of thought to words was wrought
With many a strong sidecar.
A lot of my stuff is extremely rough,
For I had no maiden aunts.
O dear Miss Mutch, leave go your clutch
On Noah Webster's pants!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nothing like a dame

Is it just me, or does Julie Andrews look better than ever? Here she is with Stephen Colbert talking about writing kids' books (you know he has one coming out, and we have it for pre-order at a whopping discount!). Keep watching for a sweet surprise at the end.
Here is a sample of Colbert's minuscule (and very tongue-in-cheek) opus:
John Zech writes in Composer's Datebook about a score by Stravinsky that debuted on this date. (We have it on a rare disc with the Firebird.)
The ballet "Apollo" premiered at the Library of Congress in 1928. Originally Stravinsky gave this work a French title: "Apollon Musagète" (Apollo and the Muses). Years later, Stravinsky said he preferred the simpler title "Apollo" for this work. This serene and neo-classical score was, in Stravinsky's own words, "my first attempt to compose a large-scale work in which contrasts of volume replace contrasts of instrumental color." "Apollo" was choreographed by George Balanchine, and proved a great success. In fact, it has remained Stravinsky's most popular ballet after "The Firebird," "Petrushka," and "The Rite of Spring" — his trio of colorful early scores for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Music picks

Soile Isokoski/Richard Strauss (San Francisco Sentinel)
The Helsinki Philharmonic gave the premiere performance of the Jean Sibelius' First Symphony on today's date in 1899, with the composer himself conducting. He went on to write five more symphonies, now considered among the finest of the early 20th century. In his private diary, German composer Richard Strauss wrote this appraisal: "Sibelius is the only Scandinavian composer who has real depth . . . his music has a freshness that presupposes a virtually inexhaustible fund of melodic invention." That was a trait he shared with Strauss, and it can be heard in its full glory in the CD Songs by Sibelius, Strauss and Berg by Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski. A recital is such an ephemeral experience; thankfully this exceptional one was preserved for posterity.
Turning to a diva of a different stripe, all hail Bonnie Raitt and her new CD Slipstream!! Is there any singer/guitarist alive who can match her moxie? NPR's Ken Tucker rightly sang her praises when choosing the CD for its "First Listen" feature:
The warmth and vigor of Bonnie Raitt's voice throughout her new album Slipstream, even when she's covering an oldie such as Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," is vital and fresh — urgent, even. Raitt has always possessed a gift for taking a familiar phrase and rendering it in a manner that compels a listener to think anew about what the words really mean.
Raitt has always mixed folk with blues, rock and the sort of funk that she'd probably link to Lowell George and Little Feat, and that I'd say is as respectful of beat and groove as any of the R&B artists she admires. You can hear it in her slide-guitar playing throughout Slipstream, and particularly the way she sets up the rhythm with her band and then slides her voice in like a letter going into an envelope addressed to you.
I know that if you're going to praise a Bonnie Raitt album, you're supposed to work in some comparison to her greatest commercial success, 1989's Grammy-winning Nick of Time. But my praise is more precise: This is Raitt's best album since 1975's underrated Home Plate. I'm not just pulling that out for obscurity's sake, either: Slipstream captures the kind of barnstorming fervor that can turn in the space of a song into a slow boil, the roiling storm of emotions contained within her cover of Bob Dylan's "Million Miles."
I mentioned Raitt's vocals at the start of this review, and I'm going to end there, too. It's not that I'm ageist enough to think that someone in her 60s can sing as fluidly as Raitt does here — heck, her blues heroes were doing it a few decades beyond that. But it is rare for a performer who has maintained a 40-year career to sound so unfazed, so careful to avoid artistic short-cuts, so lacking in cynicism. She has the guile and shrewdness of a long-time pro, but it's the purity of this beautiful mongrel music that gives it its great life.

"She slides her voice in like a letter going into an envelope addressed to you."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What's making me happy

Roy Lichtenstein. Ohhh...Alright..., 1964. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Private Collection.
I stole the name of this post from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, which makes me happy itself. In addition:
  1. Alec Baldwin's new podcast, Here's the Thing. So far I've listened to conversations with Kathleen Turner, Kristin Wiig, Herb Alpert, and Dick Cavett, and there were nuggets of gold in all four.
  2. A Roy Lichtenstein retrospective will travel from Chicago to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (October 14–January 13, 2013), the first since his death in 1997. A major catalog published by the Art Institute of Chicago and distributed by Yale Press will accompany the exhibition.
  3. People often return to books and films as they age, with altered or deepened perspectives. I hadn't thought too much about doing the same with art. In the latest New Yorker (a weekly shot of which is one of life's essentials), Alex Ross discusses super-aesthete Count Harry Kessler's diary: "He writes wonderfully of the importance of revisiting the deepest works at different stages of one's life, for they will change appearance 'like medieval cathedrals at different times of day.' Make haste while you are young, he advises, or 'it is too late, and you have missed the morning light of the masterpieces.'" [Go here for a nifty Columbia U. web presentation on Monet's cathedrals series.]
What's making you happy?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

People of 'Earthsea' in art and film

There's a maddening article by Ursula LeGuin in the Slate archives about how the SyFy (then Sci Fi) channel manhandled, eviscerated, and perverted her Earthsea books. Initially I was excited to see that they'd even done a series, but now I mourn an opportunity squandered.
When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.... My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn't see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had "violet eyes"). It didn't even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn't they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?....
Instead of a mostly non-white cast that was faithful to the books, the producers hired just two non-white actors, one of them an extra. She also talks about previous issues she had with book covers:
I had endless trouble with cover art. Not on the great cover of the first edition—a strong, red-brown profile of Ged—or with Margaret Chodos Irvine's four fine paintings on the Atheneum hardcover set, but all too often. The first British Wizard was this pallid, droopy, lily-like guy—I screamed at sight of him. Gradually I got a little more clout, a little more say-so about covers. And very, very, very gradually publishers may be beginning to lose their blind fear of putting a nonwhite face on the cover of a book. "Hurts sales, hurts sales" is the mantra. Yeah, so? On my books, Ged with a white face is a lie, a betrayal—a betrayal of the book, and of the potential reader.
[Top: US and UK First Editions; center, subsequent paperbacks.]

"Readers of color told me that the Earthsea books were the only books in the genre that they felt included in—and how much this meant to them, particularly as adolescents, when they'd found nothing to read in fantasy and science fiction except the adventures of white people in white worlds."

Monday, April 23, 2012

How the world sees us

A post the other day on adolescent girls and their crushes on adult men led me to a perusal of the posters for The World of Henry Orient. (BTW, the screenplay was adapted by Nunnally Johnson from a 1958 book written by his daughter Nora when she was only 25 years old, and first editions are very pricey—$100 to $500.) Anyway, I had a laugh over how the title transmogrified across Europe. The French ("Two Pals, One Seducer") and Spanish ("Two Girls, One Seducer & "The Irresistible Henry Orient") bypass the point that it's the girls who harass the hapless Henry, while the Polish (?) one pinpoints it in a highly creative fashion.
These are some additional humorous titles that surface fairly frequently on the web; real names appear after the jump.
1. If You Leave Me, I Delete You (hint: it's not about Facebook)
2. The Jungle Died Laughing
3. Urban Neurotic/Two Extra Lovers
4. His Great Device Makes Him Famous
5. Vaseline
6. Six Naked Pigs
7. Mr Cat Poop
8. The Big Liar
9. Cuckoo
10. I'm Drunk and You're a Prostitute

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012

10 ways to celebrate the 42nd Earth Day
  1. Go outside: for a walk, hike, bike ride; sit on a bench & watch the birds; putter in the garden; say hey to the neighbors
  2. Change to energy-efficient light bulbs, change air filters, wash windows
  3. Revel in an episode of Planet Earth
  4. Get some perspective: make a date to visit an observatory
  5. Contemplate the macro and the micro with The Big Picture's fabulous array of nature photos, images of environmental abuse, and shots of innovative ways to use alternative energy.
  6. Expand your culinary horizons with Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Food Plants
  7. Discover the thrills of avian sleuthing: 100 Birds to See Before You Die: The Ultimate Wish List for Birders Everywhere
  8. Join or create a community garden
  9. Look deeper into growing (or raising) your own food and hone other homesteading skills with the many books that have exploded on the market in these recessionary times. (Scroll down the page of the link to see what I mean!)
  10. Make or buy a rain barrel and a composter. Dig it!
"A Japanese snow monkey [I call him 'Ojichan'] relaxes in a hot spring in the Jigokudani valley in northern Nagano Prefecture, Japan on Feb 10, 2012. The macaques descend from the forests to the warm waters of the hot springs in the mornings, and return to the security of the forests in the evenings." (Nick Ut/Associated Press)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fun & games

BBC America made this irresistible promo of very young kids gamely attempting to narrate parts of the Planet Earth nature documentary. Awwww!

OK, I guess the quiz yesterday was too easy, because both I and Gioconda got all four correct. So now here's a harder one, in which you must identify the name of the book from the design clues on the cover.
(I confess I only got 4 correct, although I maintain that some of my my incorrect guesses were good ones! Can you blame me for thinking the title at left was Brideshead Revisited?)

Important announcement from our sponsor: our Daedalus tech guru has now fixed a glitch in the Daily Glean RSS and e-mail feeds, so if you'd like to access it that way, you should be good to go now—let us know if not.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Reading used to be quiet.../Prom!

Now that e-books have sounds in them, The Guardian has concocted a multiple-choice quiz to see if you can guess the work of literature from an array of noises. How did you do?
For many years, Mary Ellen Mark's large-format Polaroids of high school prom couples have reflected the transition from youth to adulthood, as well as changing mores in society (e.g., same-sex couples). Her latest book, Prom, is a collection of 127 portraits from 13 schools across the country, shot between 2006 and 2009. The New York Times photo blog Lens has a good assortment, as does NPR.
 What about your prom photo (if you went)? Were you happy with it? A lot of these kids don't seem to having a particularly good time! Mark has done some extremely cool stuff, including books on Indian circuses, street kids, a women's prison, twins, movie sets, and more. On her website you can even buy a poster of Clayton Moore in his Lone Ranger outfit!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Buy a blurb, tuppence a word

"These blurb requests grow so very tiresome."
Have you ever picked up a newly released hardback—especially a first novel— and wondered how the fortunate writer got such laudatory squibs on the back cover? I've often been struck by the "coincidence" that many of the blurbers are published by the same company as the book in question. One also notes with amusement the artistry with which some of these master wordcrafters deploy a handful of anodyne generalities. Not that I don't feel for them: I wouldn't be surprised if someday I found a Nabokovian word game in a blurb adding up to "buyer beware."! In a humorous blog posting in the New Yorker called "Blurb Your Enthusiasm," Adam Mansbach performs a spot-on skewering of this shopworn practice. Bottom line: blurb cadgers must pay the piper!
You are under twenty-five. (+$100)
This is your first book. (+$100)
This is your first book in a decade. (+$150)…
We got drunk together at a literary festival once, but I could tell you were thinking the whole time about how now you could ask me for a blurb. (+$75) … Your bio contains a list of wacky jobs you’ve held and/or states that you “divide your time” between two cities, countries, or continents. (+$300) The front matter of your book contains a family tree and/or a map. (+$200) …You have attached the entire manuscript as a Word document and encouraged me to “track changes.” (+$500) You have an M.F.A. (+$100) …You acknowledge that the process of asking for blurbs is demeaning, and that blurbs will have no more impact on the sales or reviews of your book than the “note on the type” your designer will insist on including. (-$300) I asked you for a blurb once and you turned me down. (+$1,000)
The House of Mirth in "Valspeak" was my favorite of a recent set of literary makeovers by Flavorwire in slang:
Mrs. Trenor sat up with an exclamation. “OMG Lily! Percy? Are you telling me you’ve actually, you know, done it?”
Miss Bart smiled. “As if! I only mean that Gryce and I are like, getting pretty tight.”
“Um, oh my god.” Mrs. Trenor stared at her. “You know, all the girls say he makes eight hundred thousand bucks a year – and he spends like nothing, except on his totally boring books. I mean, who reads books? And I totally heard, don’t ask me from who, that his mother has heart disease, and is so gonna leave him way more. Watch out, girl!”
Miss Bart continued to smile. “Well I wouldn’t, like, tell him his books were totally boring. Duh!”
“As if! I know you know how to talk to guys. I’m just saying, he’s like pretty shy, and kind of easily shocked, and, you know — ”
“Ugh! Oh my god! Just say it, Judy. Everyone thinks I’m a total gold digger?”
“Oh my god, I don’t mean it like that. Whatever! He’d, like, never believe that trashy gossip,” said Mrs. Trenor. “But you know when we throw our bitchin’ parties, they can get kinda, like, wild – OMG BTW I have to tell Jack and Gus about this – and if he thought you were like, what his mother would call like a total slut, ugh you know what I mean. Don’t wear that tight red dress to dinner, even though it makes you look like a total Betty, and so don’t smoke in front of him.”
James (left) and Wharton
Of course, Edith Wharton was a master prose stylist, as was her great friend Henry James. Even in "translation," this passage hints at the explorations of women's sexuality—and its repression/expression in a world of constrained gender roles—that pervaded both her life and her fiction.
Besides blurbs, reviews, and recommendations from friends, literary awards are another way we hapless readers find primo reading matter.  Finalists this year for the nearly $50,000 Orange Prize for Fiction (which "celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world") will be announced May 30 in London. This year's shortlist:
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding   
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett
We're quite familiar with Ozick's brilliant mind and with the "wonders" of Patchett's prose, but we're excited in particular to engage with Miller's retelling of Homer's poem.
As Mary Doria Russell wrote in the Washington Post:
"Song of Achilles" provides that back story, an exegesis that draws the personal and the intimate out of Homer's virile action adventure. Miller searched ancient Greek texts for every mention of Patroclus. She found an exile and an outcast and created for us a lonely, isolated child with a streak of appealing sadness. He catches the eye of the golden boy Achilles and grows up beside him, becoming not simply companion and friend, but dearer to Achilles than all the world.
Gradually, "The Song of Achilles" becomes a quiet love story, one so moving that I was reluctant to move on to the war and Homer's tale of perverted honor and stubborn pride. But Miller segues into that more public story with grace. Her battle scenes are tense and exciting as the young, half-divine Achilles comes into his own: Aristos Achaion, greatest of Greeks. By the end of the story, she has matured her characters by another 10 years of warfare. It's beautifully done.